Love is mighty ... lovely


Love is Mighty Close
Vika and Linda
Bullbar records


Vika and Linda Bull's latest album, Love is Mighty Close, arguably lacks the joie de vivre of earlier recordings, but the songster siblings nevertheless evoke an unmistakable je ne sais quoie. In other words, it's good but it ain't great.

Some of the Bulls' previous albums have been so good that ... well, I'm too much of a fan to be critical. What I can say is that Love is Mighty Close is lovely. Each and every one of these dozen songs is a love song. The sisters' singing is, as ever, lovely. Even the album's publicist signs off a covering letter with "love ...".

There's a country influence to a few songs. All songs on Love is Mighty Close are written by Australian songwriters but none is particularly Australian in lyric or style.

Nor does the album reflect the serenading sisters' Tongan heritage as did some of their earlier work. Vika and Linda are considered to be the most famous Tongans in the world along with the man-mountain of rugby, Jonah Lomu. Perhaps Lomu could have played cymbals or triangle (or rugby) on a backing track to give some of the songs a bit more oomph.

All in all, a good album and well worth a listen. Problem is, Vika and Linda have set the bar so high that good doesn't compare to great. There are a couple of enjoyable ballads on Love is Mighty Close, but nothing to match gems such as "Sacred Things" and "The Blue Hour" from their 1994 album Vika and Linda, "Between Two Shores" from Princess Tabu in 1996, or "If I Could Start Today Again" from 1999's Two Wings.

Some of Vika and Linda's best songs have been reggae — "We've Started a Fire" and "Hard Love" — but there's only a hint of reggae in their latest offering. And there's little of the rip-roaring rock harmony singing of earlier Vika and Linda albums (and classics with the Black Sorrows: "Hold on to me", "Chained to the Wheel" and others).

Also missing from Love is Mighty Close is the blending of the personal and the political that characterised earlier songs such as "Between Two Shores" and "Grandpa's Song", the latter about Vika's embarrassment about her Tongan heritage when she was young.

Vika and Linda's best songs have been written by the sisters themselves, as well as those by Paul Kelly. That is missing in the latest album, with the exception of two songs written by Kelly (one of them, a country waltz, among the best songs on the album).

Hard-core Vika and Linda fans (and there are plenty of us) will want the latest album. Certainly, my cat Fluffy thinks it's infinitely better than my recent, appalling attempts at Nick Drake covers.

For the uninitiated, best to start with Vika and Linda's superb Live & Acoustic album released in 2000. Then you'll want all the others. And make sure to see Vika and Linda live (there's a gig guide on their web site).

I still can't work out which of the sisters is Vika and which is Linda. It must be a trade secret. Fluffy thinks Vika has short hair and Linda long — but what would she know, she's just a cat and her Nick Drake covers aren't that crash hot, either.

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From Green Left Weekly, August 28, 2002.

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